Thousands of free books in your pocket

Over the past few months I have become quite addicted to my silvery iPod Touch, Apple’s palm-sized iPod with a 3 x 5″ video screen. My iTouch was a freebie bonus when my husband bought an iMac and the big surprise for me was how much I enjoyed reading books on its tiny screen.

While it’s not as pleasant as reading a real paper-and-ink book, it’s surprisingly close, especially when I dim the screen so that it has less glare.

Why do I love it? Let me count the ways.

1) The first big draw is convenience. On a recent vacation I carried 10 books on my iTouch, allowing me to read during the usual travel delays, and during the frequent pauses in our sightseeing when my husband needed to stop and take a photograph. It’s also remarkably easy to read in bed on the iTouch, and I don’t even need a lamp.

2) Then there’s the instant gratification. If you are connected to a wireless network, you can get just about any public domain book (in the United States published before 1923) for free within a minute. This is great for following the reading for lots of online humanities courses. For example, I quickly located a free version of Hard Times by Charles Dickens to read in conjunction with Margaret Anderson’s great course European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present (website).

3) There’s even more instant gratification. If I’m curious about new book, I can often download a free sample chapter from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Then I have to exercise my willpower not to press the “buy now” button too often.

So, how do you get free books for your iPod Touch or iPhone?

First, download the big 3 e-reader apps (all free): Stanza, Kindle for iPhone, and Barnes and Noble eReader. They each have their pluses and minuses, and give you access to different ebook collections. Here’s a quick summary.

Lexcycle Stanza (website)
Stanza is my favorite e-reader for free books because it taps into Project Gutenberg, the granddaddy of the web’s public access book sites which has been digitizing public domain books since 1971.
Pros: Stanza is highly customizable, allowing you to easily change type size, font and line spacing. It’s very stable (it doesn’t crash at odd moments) and unlike its two more famous rivals, it lets you search the text.
Cons: For current titles, Stanza doesn’t have the breadth or the discounts of its rivals. Lexcycle has recently been acquired by Amazon, so that may change.

Kindle for iPhone (website)
This is a free software version of Amazon’s popular Kindle hardware e-reader.
Pros: Kindle is a very robust application. In three months of daily use, it hasn’t crashed once. And it gives access to the huge collection of ebooks offered by Amazon, including lots of bestsellers at the rock-bottom price of $9.99. It also offers free public domain books, but they’re not easy to find on Amazon.com.  Try this handy list, or this list of public domain bestsellers.  Or you can search for “public domain kindle books”  on Amazon and add the title or author you are seeking.
Cons: This application has a couple of glaring faults. First, it has no search function. You’d think this would be a no-brainer way of adding value to computerized books, but Amazon’s application has no search. This was especially a drawback when I used my iTouch to carry a guidebook during a recent trip to Paris. Second, the ebook index did not work. Yes, you can see a term in the index, but you can’t jump to the right place at the book. Instead, you only have the table of contents to help you navigate your way through the book.

Barnes and Noble eReader (website)
The B&N eReader is the new guy on the block, trying to catch up to Amazon’s big lead.
Pros: B&N has made a deal with Google, giving it its eReader access to the free public domain books in Google’s gigantic digitization project. If you can’t find a book on Project Gutenberg, you can probably find it with the B&N eReader.  If you want to find the free editions on B&N’s website, search for the title or author in ebooks, and then sort the results by price.
Cons: Unlike its two rivals, the B&N eReader is flaky and prone to crashing. I have had to uninstall and reinstall it several times. Also, the digitized books in Google’s collection often have lots of typos, probably caused by Google’s automated scanning and a lack of proofreading. Finally, like the Kindle application, the B&N eReader lacks a search function. B&N’s software engineers ought to be sweating over an improved version if they really want to compete with Amazon.

Related posts:
Ebook readers for iphone: updated reviews
More free books in your pocket

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4 Responses to Thousands of free books in your pocket

  1. Saeed says:

    And with the newer free text-to-speech options available, one can listen to these free books on your computer or ipod.

    There are several websites that do it.
    See reviews here:

    http://www.dkszone.net/2009/10/best-free-text-to-speech-online.html

    In addition, there are freeware options for your computers. I tried:

    readplease free
    natural voice free version ($50 for commercial version)
    ezText reader
    voicemate

    Of these, the ezTextreader worked best on my PC. It doesn’t offer an option to convert to MP3, but sounded best. It works with MS built-in TTS engine, but somehow makes the speech more natural sounding.

  2. baxter wood says:

    I’ve had an ipac (HP pocket pc) for 4 years, used it every day and read many free books on it. Love my Kindle too. Paper books are a last resort. They are so heavy.

  3. Todd Whiting says:

    KirtasBooks.com has more than 800,000 books available. Books that haven’t been digitized yet. They will “Digitize on Demand”. When you order a book they will digitize it, and either send you a download link, paperback or hardcover re-print depending your order.

    For an idea of their quality check out this month’s FREE READ, “The House of the Vampire” available as either PDF or EPUB download.

    • Dara says:

      I don’t usually allow commercial plugs, but this one looks interesting. Kirtas digitizes books for large university and public libraries, and then offers to sell public domain books to you and me for $1.95. If you can’t find the public domain book you want on Gutenberg or Amazon, Kirtas looks like a good bet. See this press release for more info.

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